OKC Thunder: Growing contingent of players hesitant to restart season

OKC Thunder (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
OKC Thunder (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

OKC Thunder fans may have to put hopes for an NBA return on hold as a group of players are hesitant to restart season.

With the Board of Governors and National Basketball Players Association ratifying the return of NBA in Orlando fans rejoiced. OKC Thunder fans began to plan their summer calendars around the July 31st return anxious for the Clutch Time Killers magical season to resume.

Initially, the NBA provided the broad strokes of the 22 team format with eight ‘seeded’ games and six unseeded teams participating. Throughout last week further timelines and details were announced. The NBPA indicated there were still some items to be tweaked within the plan but for all intents and purposes, the season was green-lighted with games beginning on July 31st.

As much as it seemed this was a done deal, yesterday reminded things are never that simple. Nor should they be given the coronavirus is still very much affecting North America. Although the league has conscientiously turned over every stone in their path and consulted medical professionals this isn’t a simple situation. At any time a second wave could arise which could alter the plan to return.

Players’ health and safety are at the forefront of every decision the league has made. That’s why the league wants the campus ‘bubble setting’ so that players can be isolated from masses of people. It’s also why family and friends won’t be allowed to be in Orlando until after the first round of playoffs is complete.

Could recent player hesitancy result in NBA season cancellation?

Yet this is only one of the issues the players are concerned with. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN posted a ‘growing faction’ of players are discussing not attending. Clearly, the concern over contracting COVID-19 and what taking that risk involves is a priority. Notably, the NBA won’t force any player to participate although they’ll feel it in the pocketbook.

Being confined in the bubble is something some players aren’t comfortable with. Young teams who know they don’t have much of a shot at a deep playoff run are thought to be the ones in this camp.

Plus there is a very real concern over improving race relations. On Joshua Johson’s podcast Matt Barnes said he believes some NBA players want to dedicate their return to George Floyd while he’s also said he spoke to Snoop who said some players on the Lakers and Clippers are leaning toward not playing in order to resolve race relations issues first.

Adrian Wojnarowski appeared on ‘Get Up’ this morning to offer insight. Woj noted a growing number of players who have ‘more than a hesitation’ on making a commitment to go into the bubble.

Conference calls with up to 40 to 50 players as well as one-off conversations are occurring to discuss the issues they want to be addressed.

Woj reiterated the above points such as living in an environment where they can’t leave or have family in attendance is an issue. He also confirmed the unrest among players who are invested in resolving race relations prior to returning to play.

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Asked whether he believes the NBA will forge ahead with the current plan Wojnarowski said he does think it will. As the NBPA president, OKC Thunder captain Chris Paul has been actively involved with NBPA executive director Michelle Roberts and NBA commissioner Adam Silver as the return to action plan was formulated. Throughout the hiatus, Paul spoke to players and teams for input on plans and to get an idea of their concerns.

No doubt he’s involved in these recent calls and following up on the issues with Silver. The fact the players are concerned means the season resuming is no longer a given. For those of us hoping for a return, we’ll have to await further word from the NBA.

At the very least, it won’t be surprising if several players elect not to participate especially teams with little to no shot of advancing. It’s not hard to understand why players may want to pass on taking so many risks to play eight games and be completely isolated during that time frame. Conversely, it’s also conceivable teams with more than a good shot at deep playoff runs are more likely to be invested.

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